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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My first weekend away from Bogota

Betty invited me to go to her family's farm outside of  Villavicencio which is about two hours (or just a bit more) from Bogota. Having not left Bogota at all since I got here I was welcoming the change! I really enjoy Bogota a lot but, I hate the terrible weather here and the horrible traffic! I was told it would be warm enough to wear my shorts and sandals for the first time since I have been here so I was excited! After the bus ride up there that cost me 10 USD and dealing with our crazy bus driver who drove like we were in a Nascar race I made it there. It is the same in every third world country that I have visited, all the drivers on the public transport ( no matter what form you decide to take) drive like they will be executed if they are even one minute late haha. Of course they can be way late picking you up but, once you get going, you are flying! There was times when I thought we were going to fall off the mountain! We had to drive thru the mountains (literally) to get to the plains of Villavicencio. It was a beautiful drive and we all made it in one piece.

Once I made it to Villavicencio Betty was there to pick me up. I hadn't seen her in a few day so it was good to be able to hold her and all that mushy stuff :) After that we drove to her family's ranch house which was very rustic and cool. I know my mom would have loved it. Check my Facebook page for all the pictures. It was so relaxing and peaceful up there. Just Her and I and her father and two dogs. Such a change from the loud,crazy,noisy Bogota. I live really close to the airport in Bogota so there is always noise! I was nervous about my lack of Spanish when talking with Betty's dad but, we actually got along pretty well. My Spanish is certainly not great but it is good enough to speak at a child like level and be understood haha.

I came back to edit this post because I forgot something important! During the week I went to McDonald's for my first (and last) time in Colombia. Considering that McDonald's is in nearly every country on the planet and most of the countries I have visited, I like to try it to get a feel for the country. In Colombia the food at McDonald's tastes better than the McDonald's back home (but here they use way more salt on the fries!) But, saying the food is better at McDonald's is like saying its better if someone murders only one person and not ten lol. Bad is bad. McDonald's in Colombia is very interesting. It is so expensive that only the very rich can afford to go there. The people you will see in there are all business people in suits or rich people.

In Colombia there are people who have never been to McDonald's in their lives. There are men who will take their wives there on an anniversary. Considering that I paid 20,000 pesos for my meal (or $10.96 USD!) I can see why. I can get a much better, much bigger Colombian meal for 5000 pesos or $2.50 USD, so that is a little comparison there. Well now you know why I am one and done with McDonald's in Colombia. The best thing about my visit there was the free Internet. I did get a free collectible cup to commemorate McDonald's sponsorship of the upcoming London 2012 Olympics. (Insert sarcasm here)

All in all, other than being eaten alive by mosquitoes everything was great! I even got to eat the Colombian version of Brisket in Las Vegas lol. -Tyler

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life in Bogota!

So this is my LONG overdue update! I have been here three weeks now and this is my first blog, can you believe it! So I am just going to give yall a jumbled run down of what I can remember in no particular order, my apologies a lot has happened in my life in three weeks! So, I know most of my readers think Colombia is the most dangerous place on the planet (and it once was) but I am going to let you know now that is no longer the case. Many people have a view of Colombia that is dated twenty years. Twenty years ago Bogota (and Colombia in general) was NOT a place you wanted to be. These days things have changed dramatically for the better. Before you go thinking I am totally naive, I am not. Colombia is still dangerous. I have heard of numerous muggings and thefts,scams from taxi drivers and just places in general you don't want to go.

Luckily, I have learned quickly how to be "aware" for example in America you wouldn't think twice about using an ATM basically anywhere at anytime. Here, at night you want to use one inside a store or one that is inside a locked room. At night you don't want to wander around alone or hail just any taxi off the street, it is better to call ahead and pre order your taxi so it can be tracked. That being said 99% of Colombians are friendly,hospitable people who are nice and have giving hearts. I personally knock on wood have had no problems so far. So don't let Colombia's past reputation scare you away from visiting. The only things I hate so far is the horrible traffic congestion, the four seasons in one day weather, and the beast that they call the "electric shower".

I have had lots of issues with getting lost because in Bogota it is a city that is basically totally off numbers. I will give you an example. The first coordinate is called a Carrea and the second is called a Calle. So you will have Kra. (Carrea) 72 con (with) Calle 53 and then a house or business number. There is a ton of abbreviations for the Calle/Carrea thing and they actually leave old addresses posted up! It can be quite confusing! At night it is really hard to see the addresses as they are only posted on the side of the buildings and there is no street signs :( The whole city is supposed to work on a grid system but the roads are so windy and messed up it doesn't always work like that so you end up all lost! Slowly but surely, I am getting it though. I have been lost on the bus system for four hours when I first got here and when my Spanish was terrible (that was no fun at all!)

Bogota has a really good metro bus system (Transmilenio)  that is cheap (tickets are only a dollar and you get free unlimited transfers) but the buses don't go everywhere and there is no subway. The Transmilenio is really good if there is a station close to where you want to go. My only complaint is that it is always super crowded and they have the most INEFFICIENT loading/uploading system ever. Everyone just pours thru the turnstiles (both entering and exiting passengers thru the same ones) and then both exiting and entering passengers just pour onto/from the buses. It is a mad house! So, if you can't get where you want to go you have to take a "Collectivo" which range in size from a bus to a mini van and you pay the driver about 50 cents and hop on. They rarely stop for you, they will stop ANYWHERE at anytime so you have to be ready and you just have to know what bus goes where because there is no map or system. They are almost always overcrowded and sometimes you are literally packed shoulder to shoulder in a van. If you are lucky enough to get an actual seat on the collectivo you don't move at all until you have to get off. You enter the collectivo from the front and must exit from the back so if you get a seat near the back door that primo! Also because the button to "stop" the collectivo is only located in the very back! Generally speaking as soon as you push it though, they stop! Anywhere,anytime lol.

Traffic is always terrible in Bogota! It can take over 1 hour to get anywhere (I always give myself at least an hour to get anywhere) car ownership is only at 20% but there is 8 million+ people here so that is a lot of cars and add all the buses and taxis to that, with no subway system and it is always a mess! I hate it! Because for my job I have to travel to the client's house/office so I am always fighting traffic. But other than the bad traffic and the bad weather and electric showers I love everything else about this city. I even love how "raw" it is. I love how it is dirty and graffiti filled. I love how the sidewalks are sometimes broken or non existent. For the same reasons that I love Thailand, these third world cities are not "sanitized" and overly clean with no character. Obviously that is not for everyone but I feel more at ease in a city like this than I would in some sparkling clean city somewhere.

On the collectivos there is constantly people getting on trying to sell you things (they give a free whatever to the driver in exchange for him letting them hawk their stuff to you). They drive wildly (well everyone does in Colombia lol) they honk CONSTANTLY if you don't move your car/bus/truck/whatever the INSTANT it turns green and I do mean the instant! You just get used to all this noise after a while. In a city of 8 million people and me living close to the airport it is hard to avoid. I have almost sprained my ankle more than once jumping off a Collectivo because they don't stop but for a millisecond. When you are crammed into transport like that you really guard your wallet etc. But, when it is your only option to go to work you have to do it. Gas is 5 USD a gallon here so I will never be driving here! As you can see my commute can be pretty crappy sometimes lol

I am a private English tutor here and I have seven different great clients! I love my job because it is one on one and my clients are great. I have to go to their homes/offices which sucks because of the traffic but I am making good money and I really enjoy my job. I also moved to a good apartment with three Colombians, a chef,a comedian and a bartender. Only one of them speaks a little English so I am learning Spanish quickly. Being immersed in the language constantly I find that I am learning quickly! Everyone has been super nice. The only downside to my apartment is that beast they call the electric shower. See, our house (and a big part of the city) doesn't have hot water on tap. so the only way to get hot water is to rig this scary looking electric thing directly to the shower head. Thus far I have not been electrocuted haha. But, it is so temperamental!  Just a pinch in the wrong direction and you are either freezing or burning! You want good water pressure? forget about it!! In a city that ranges from 40 degrees F to 75F year round with A LOT of rain, being cold is not something I like!

Now for my big news. I hope yall are still reading this far since I didn't lead with my big news haha. On my first day in Colombia I met a really cool guy named Sergio who speaks both English and Spanish and he has been to Texas! I met him via Couch Surfing. He told me he had someone he wanted me to meet, On my first day here he introduced me to a beautiful girl named Beatriz (she prefers Betty and its easier for me to say) Well Betty is now my official girlfriend :) Yes you heard that right, I Traveling Tyler am in a committed relationship! She is great! She studies biology at a big university here and she is also studying English and teaching me Spanish. We help each other language wise. She can cook and she is super sweet. Her family is awesome and I had a great Mother's Day with them. She is studying biology and she is so much smarter than I. When I say I am one lucky man, it is true! I don't know yet if we will go for the long haul or not but, I want to give us a chance.

So, long story short, for the first time in quite a while I am super happy. Everything is working out for me so far :) I have no desire to run off and travel more at the moment. I am not retiring forever just settling down for a bit. I have a great job,a good place to live and an amazing girlfriend who I like very much. I don't want to mess this up and give it a shot! So that is me thus far :) I have met some great people and I am having lots of fun. Thanks for reading my LONG rant. I had a lot to spill haha.

This is the first country I have been too where you can see belly dancers at the grocery store like this!  She was pretty good though lol.Oh ya, I got to be a "Gringo" extra in a Colombian soap opera that will air on national television! That was not even on my bucket list haha. So surreal but an awesome thing to do. I got paid 60 bucks USD and I didn't even have any lines! I can't wait to get the picture of me in a suit that looked very similar to Ron Burgundy haha. All I had to do was stand there and look like a white guy :) It was a lot of fun though and I got free food and to hang out with my friends and meet new friends. Also, got to practice a lot of my Spanish. I told my girlfriend she is dating a super star now haha. Oh by the way, our "scene" was supposed to be in a bar in New York City lol.

Til next time,Tyler